Good News, Bad News For Gcc’S Prospects

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The pot continues to boil at Gila Community College, one of the most important institutions in Rim Country.

So far, it looks like a savory stew — with some admittedly strange ingredients.

One big piece of good news: Sen. Sylvia Allen stands ready to introduce legislation to give GCC the chance to win its independence and she has enlisted the strong support of incoming District 5 house members — Brenda Barton and Chester Crandell.

The draft of the legislation would remove the impediments the Legislature unfairly put in the way of a provisional community college growing into a full-fledged college — entitled to the same support as other rural districts that happened to form before the Legislature slammed the door.

Unfortunately, Sen. Allen calculated that the only way to get the measure through the Legislature was to kick the issue of equalizing funding down the road by five or 10 years. As a result, the legislation would at least initially prevent GCC from dipping into equalization funding enjoyed by other rural districts — a compromise that cheats Gila County taxpayers out of about $6 million in deserved state support.

Alas, we suspect Sen. Allen read the portents accurately in this case — given the near panic at the Legislature concerning the looming deficit.

The legislation would lay the groundwork for the future of a vital institution. GCC enrollment has increased by 250 percent in recent years and the college contributes at least $2.6 million annually to the Rim Country economy.

The college offers students an opportunity to launch their college education without leaving home, a huge cost savings for many struggling families. The college provides classes that enrich people who have retired to Payson — a huge amenity for people who make an absolutely crucial contribution to the Rim Country culture and economy.

Of course, that savory stew bubbling along on the stove now also includes some strange spices and maybe a couple of pieces of rancid meat.

Witness the news that several board members have filed an open meeting complaint against Chairman Bob Ashford, for the bizarre maneuver in which a narrow board majority simply repealed all the board’s bylaws — for the apparent purpose of letting Ashford run for another term as chairman despite the term limits in the bylaws.

As Sen. Allen observes, such bickering on the board doesn’t send a very good signal to the Legislature.

So we welcome the efforts of Allen, Barton and Crandell to reform laws that abuse the residents of Gila and other rural counties and hope that the GCC board will pull things together for this crucial effort.

Now that we’ve finally got the pot boiling — it would be tragic to let it boil over.

Base decisions on student impacts

Question: If your porch was about to collapse, would you rip out beams from the foundation of the house to prop it up?

We suspect the Payson School Board on Jan. 19 will confront a similar question as it considers what to do about a projected $800,000 deficit. A school committee has offered suggestions — some good, some questionable.

For starters, the committee says the district will save nearly $300,000 annually in maintenance and staffing costs by closing one elementary school — probably Frontier. Next, the committee suggests increasing elementary school class sizes from around 20 to around 27.

Finally, the committee suggests converting one of the surviving elementary schools to a K-2 school and the other to a 3-5 school, while keeping the middle school unchanged.

The board will hear from teachers, parents, students and staff at a hearing on Jan. 19, then make a decision within the next month. We hope the school board will accept the flawed committee report as the starting point for a discussion — not the blueprint for a solution.

We implore the board to consider the research suggesting the rush to a middle school model nationally has proved a failure. The research on the middle school model suggests it has lowered student achievement, increased discipline problems, alienated parents and increased everything from school bullying to dropout rates.

Just look at the test scores in the Payson schools. The six-year average shows that reading scores drop by 12 percent as our children enter middle school and don’t recover until students enter high school. The same thing happens with math scores — which drop 19 percent at the start of middle school and never recover. Only writing scores seem relatively unaffected by the transition to middle school. We realize that the district has precious little time to implement these changes now — and any change will involve anguish and trauma. But we hope that the board will remember that there’s not much use in a porch if the house collapses.

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